Study Guide

The Pearl Family

By John Steinbeck


Chapter 1

The songs remained; Kino knew them, but no new songs were added. That does not mean that there were no personal songs. In Kino's head there was a song now, clear and soft, and if he had been able to speak of it, he would have called it the Song of the Family. (1.3)

This is the one constant and undying song in the course of The Pearl, suggesting that family is the one element in Kino’s life that perseveres.

She looked up at him, her eyes as cold as the eyes of a lioness. This was Juana's first baby – this was nearly everything there was in Juana's world. And Kino saw her determination and the music of the family sounded in his head with a steely tone. (1.28)

Kino draws strength from his wife. Without her, he would never be able to struggle against the evil that tries to take the pearl from him.

In his mind a new song had come, the Song of Evil, the music of the enemy, of any foe of the family, a savage, secret, dangerous melody, and underneath, the Song of the Family cried plaintively. (1.14)

Kino defines as evil anything that threatens the safety of the family.

Kino heard the creak of the rope when Juana took Coyotito out of his hanging box and cleaned him and hammocked him in her shawl in a loop that placed him close to her breast. Kino could see these things without looking at them. Juana sang softly an ancient song that had only three notes and yet endless variety of interval. And this was part of the family song too. It was all part. Sometimes it rose to an aching chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth, this is the Whole. (1.9)

Juana’s song has three notes to represent the three members of her and Kino’s family. When Coyotito dies, the family is destroyed – what is left is no longer whole.

Chapter 3

And the brush house was crowded with neighbors. Kino held the great pearl in his hand, and it was warm and alive in his hand. And the music of the pearl had merged with the music of the family so that one beautified the other. (3.7)

At first, the pearl contributes to the unity of the family. It is only later that this melody becomes discordant.

Behind him he heard Juana patting the cakes before she put them down on the clay cooking sheet. Kino felt all the warmth and security of his family behind him, and the Song of the Family came from behind him like the purring of a kitten. (3.30)

Kino is defined by his role in the family. He exists only within his role as husband as father.

Chapter 5

And Kino said, "Oh, my brother, an insult has been put on me that is deeper than my life. For on the beach my canoe is broken, my house is burned, and in the brush a dead man lies. Every escape is cut off. You must hide us, my brother." (5.32)

When Kino can trust no one else, he can still turn to his family for help.

Chapter 6

In Kino's ears the Song of the Family was as fierce as a cry. He was immune and terrible, and his song had become a battle cry. They trudged past the burned square where their house had been without even looking at it. They cleared the brush that edged the beach and picked their way down the shore toward the water. And they did not look toward Kino's broken canoe. (6.102)

Just as the Song of the Family changes, so does responsibility to his family. At times the melody is soft, and Kino is expected to be loving and kind. But the fierce melody we see here reflects a second duty: that of a protector.

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